Thursday, August 20, 2009

My dance with shingles - and I ain't talking about my roof...

My apologies to my readers for not posting for a few weeks - I've gotten several calls and emails from folks wondering if I'm just "laying low" for the summer, or if I've gotten lost. Well, when August 1 came, I had intended to follow through with my plan to take the month off from researching and writing, and gets lots of stuff done at the house... including moving the entire library from the first floor to the second. I had intended to do those things, that is.

On the 1st, which was a Saturday, the better half and I took a ride to do some antiquing and visit yard sales, something we enjoy doing once in a while. Hey, yard sales can be great places to find books! After making our last stop, I noticed that I had a few blisters on the back of my head. I thought maybe it had something to do with the hot sun. We had the roof off the Vette and I thought perhaps I had gotten a little too many rays.

I didn't think any more of it - until I woke up Sunday morning. There were more blisters on the back of my head, my neck, and also my right cheek. Aw, *&%$#@, I thought... poison ivy? I was out back near the woods cutting grass on Saturday morning, and maybe I got into it somehow. During the day the blisters got progressively worse. I got some Poison Ivy Wash at the store, and hoped it would help.

By Monday morning the blistering got worse and began to hurt. And the pain wasn't just at the surface, it hurt deeper in the muscle. While at the office, I called my family doctor to get in to see her so we could do something about it. She was on vacation, and her partner was covering her patients. Unfortunately, though, I couldn't get in to see her until Tuesday afternoon. When she took a look, she diagnosed it as poison ivy, or oak, or whatever. The strange thing about it, which I told her, was that it wasn't itchy at all - but it was hurting like hell. She was convinced it was contact dermatitis, and prescribed a steroid cream to put on the rash. I left, picked up the prescription, and immediately started smearing the stuff all over rash.

By Thursday, though, it hadn't cleared up much. The blisters had turned from white to red, and they seemed to be spreading. On top of it all, I started to get dizzy. I called the doc's office about it, and she prescribed steroid pills to give me a stronger meds regimen. I was so dizzy I could barely walk, let alone drive, so my wife picked up the pills. I dutifully started taking them. I was out of the office both Thursday and Friday, mainly because of the dizziness.

Saturday was pretty bad by late afternoon. The dizziness got worse, and I lost my appetite. All I could do was lie in bed. If I got up, which was rare, I had to hold onto things or I'd fall down. I was getting pretty naseous, and the fact that I couldn't eat was turning my stomach into knots. Sunday was no better. I was hoping that whatever reaction I was having would begin clearing by Monday.

Fat chance. On Monday I was dizzy as ever, and the blisters turned into ugly scabs. I still wasn't eating, and by then I'd lost about 12 pounds. (I'm 6'1" and 180, so I'm not wide to begin with.) Knowing that things were a lot more serious than just a case of poison ivy, I told my wife to run me to the Emergency Room that night.

We got to the ER about 9:30 pm. I told the admitting nurse that I thought maybe I was having a reaction to the steroid pills, which can make one dizzy and naseous. But in my case it was pretty bad, and after 3 days of it I couldn't take it anymore. Plus I wasn't eating and I was getting dehydrated. I hobbled back to the exam room. After my vitals were checked out, in walked one of the ER physicians.

It only took about a 10-second examination for him to shake his head and declare it was shingles. Shingles? What the - ? And a pretty bad case, too. Because we were treating poison ivy, it was shingles that had gone untreated for about 10 days. The blistering had gotten infected (hence the redness) and to top it off, I was dizzy as hell because it had given me an inner ear infection. It was so far advanced that it was too late to give me the shot they normally give in the early stages of shingles. A second doctor came in at the request of the first, and he too recognized it as shingles. Both shook their head when they learned another doctor had misdiagnosed it, and everyone felt bad that I had suffered this long. It was virtually untreated, and to add to my misery, I couldn't eat, was dehydrated, had a sore neck and shoulder from sleeping in a weird position (when I could sleep at all), and the ear infection completely debilitated me.

I was given and prescribed a powerful antibiotic which would knock out the shingles and the infection. I would take 2,000 milligrams per day for the next 10 days, and all I could basically do was ride out the storm. I was told I'd have a pretty rotten couple of weeks ahead of me.

And rotten they were. I could only spend the next 3 days in bed. But thankfully, the infection(s) subsided, and the dizziness finally went away over the past weekend. By Saturday my appetite returned, and I ate everything in sight. Karen spent about $200 at the grocery store, and I ate it all and then some. I've actually gained all of the weight back already. The blistering and rash are nearly gone, but the worry now is that there may be some scarring (although not too bad) because it became so advanced. I saw the chiropractor, who put my neck back into position on Tuesday. My neck was out for two weeks, and the muscles were completely wrecked. That's starting to heal now. Because of everything, I had so much pain in the head/neck area for nearly two weeks it's hard to describe.

The docs told me that shingles is basically an adult form of chicken pox. If you had it when you were a kid, you're at risk for another breakout later on, because the virus lies dormant in you for 20, 30, even 50 or more years. Neither I nor my father can remember me having it, though. Thankfully, there is a shot that is given to prevent another breakout, or will make it less severe. Once I'm completely healed, I'll probably get it. I've since learned that my sister had it some time ago too. What has really scared me is that if left completely untreated, it could have caused deafness in my right ear. If it gets into your eye, for instance, you can go blind.

I got back into the office on Monday, and I'm pretty much back to normal. There's some numbness, though, in my neck and cheek, and I'm hoping there's little or no scarring. If there are any lasting effects, however, that first doctor is getting a call - from my attorney. She called me at home the day after I was at the ER (she got a report from them) and I'm sure she was fishing around to see what my attitude was. I let her know that at this point, it's a matter of time to see if I fully recover.

I realize that there are much worse health maladies to go through, but this one was pretty awful. Getting a misdiagnosis meant that a pretty bad illness turned into a horrible one. I had nearly three weeks of abject hell, and I'll never forget August 2009.

Now it's time to get out the hammer and tools, and get to work on that library. Let's see, I wonder how long it will take to carry about 4000 books upstairs... 8 or 10 at a time...